A Question to Answer

Here comes an inquiry from a member of the gift that keeps on giving that I think is reasonable.  He says:

Here’s a question for you to ponder.
Have you ever wondered why the yankees/North/Federal Government or the reconstructed hate our banner?
Education?, fear, stupidity…or just the slavery issue?
I don’t think so. I believe that our Heritage and pride the South has in her past puts all those folks in an uneasy feeling that they just can’t explain.
Why is it if those people do not understand something or disagree with it, it’s racist?
Maybe they don’t know their own history! I know mine.

True, it’s posted in an echo chamber, and you would think that the poser of the question would offer it in a place where he might actually gather useful information. And it’s also true that in effect he poses the question because he wants to offer his own answer, although that means that he’s really answering the question “Why do I think those people hate that flag?”

I concede that the question assumes much that is not in evidence. But we work in an imperfect world. In any case, the floor is open.

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16 thoughts on “A Question to Answer

  1. The question is based on a false premise: I, for one, do not hate the Confederate battle flag. Not at all. In fact, I think it is rather attractive as flags go. The problem is its unquestionable association with slavery (1860s) and opposition to desegregation (1950s and 1960s). Therefore, despite the fact that I think it is a visually attractive flag, I totally understand that it is offensive to many people, and it probably should remain in historically appropriate displays.

  2. Given the character of the several causes for which it has openly served as the official banner/symbol, commencing with a war conducted against the United States, I guess I’d change the question so that it asks why I should respect or honor it.

    • I agree with you and James I certainly don’t hate the Confederate Battle Flag, but am always mindful of what it represents, both good and bad. Yes, it brings to mind the admirable daring, gallantry and sacrifices of the men who fought for the Confederacy over four terrible years of war, but at the same time it is a distinct reminder of the horrors of slavery and the oppression arising from a century of post-bellum segregation and Jim Crow. One can never forget that the Battle Flag forever represents a cause that, in the words of U.S. Grant, was “one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”

  3. I think the people of the South need to look inward for the reason(s) that many dislike the Battle Flag. You can start with its use at University of Mississippi football games in the 1950s. Certainly it is an emblem of Confederate heritage. I understand that. I remember walking across the “Valley of Death” at Gettysburg and seeing little Battle Flags stuck in the ground along the route of Pickett’s charge. But it is also a reminder of slavery, the KKK and segregation. Much as I appreciate the elan of Southern fighting men during the Civil War, I cannot forget seeing televised accounts of the race marches/riots of the 1960s where Battle Flags were present in great numbers. I suggest you read John Coski’s book — “The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem.” I believe he can answer your question much better than I can.

  4. To many people and me, the CSA Battle Flag represents treason, bigotry, slavery, racism and hatred. If it is used as a historical artifact, it doesn’t bother me.

    The Cause disillusionists have used it to mark their movement, whatever that may be. I would suggest they develop a new banner which represents their sentiments in a patriotic, decent and tolerant manner.

    Woahh, was that a razorback I saw take off from that limb?

  5. I, too, am an admirer of Coski’s book, and our entry on the flag at Encyclopedia Virginia owes much to it. Here is a relevant passage …

    *

    As far back as 1863, when the mostly white Second National Flag was adopted, a newspaper in Savannah, Georgia, praised it as “emblematical” of the Confederacy’s fight “to maintain the Heaven ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race.” Such a literal reading of that flag’s design was rare, and no equivalent reading of the battle flag’s design has been made. But between the 1890s and the 1930s, similar meanings were nevertheless gathered up into its folds, along with many others, such as patriotism, valor, and states’ rights.

    Despite its implicit connection to white supremacy, the battle flag was rarely used to promote racial violence prior to World War II (1939–1945), a fact the historian John Coski attributes to southerners’ treatment of the symbol as “sacred.” Beginning late in the 1930s, however, two things happened more or less at the same time: first, the battle flag became a fixture of pop culture, representing the generic Old South of the film Gone with the Wind (1939); and second, it was adopted by the third incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan. Previously, the Klan had displayed only the United States flag during its marches, but as the organization was pushed by law enforcement out of such Midwestern redoubts as Indiana and back into the South, it garbed itself in more explicitly southern symbolism.

    *

    The flag went on to be adopted by the Dixiecrats and was an explicit symbol of states’ rights and white supremacy. Not everyone knows this history, of course, and it seems only fair to acknowledge that for some white people, especially in the South, it has symbolized nothing else but what they consider to be their heritage. But once presented with this history, few if any of these folks are willing to treat it as meaningful. All that’s meaningful is their grievance.

    http://encyclopediavirginia.org/Confederate_Battle_Flag

    • “But once presented with this history, few if any of these folks are willing to treat it as meaningful. All that’s meaningful is their grievance.”

      Yes. A good bit of the rhetoric the Confederate Heritage folks use today comes straight out of the segregationist, “massive resistance” movement of the 1950s — the phrase “War of Northern Aggression” being one common example. Now, though, we have folks who (mostly) are too young to have have their own, adult memories of that period, so it’s easy for them to ignore the very explicit message those symbols and words had then, and just lump it all together under a vague-and-happy concept of “Southron heritage.”

      I’m going to keep saying it: the problem with the Confederate Battle Flag is not so much about how it was used in the 1860s, as how it was used in the 1960s.

  6. >> I believe that our Heritage and pride the South has in her past puts all those folks in an uneasy feeling that they just can’t explain.

    I think what he’s implying a commonly made charge, but it is false. But the charge is that the only real loyalty worth having is of the local variety. Localism. The only real bonds are regional. The most true things are the nearest at hand. True loyalties have no transcendant qualities. A rejection of universal things. You could call it a nominalism of a type, which is philosophical language. A rejection of the Western idea of politics that held sway for over a millennia. And I’m not saying he or anyone is a racist, but you can see the attraction to racialism. The Nazis “blood and soil” was the rejection of politics. In fact, those here who wish to understand racism and racialism should read “Race: The History of an Idea in the West” by Hannaford. Racism has a history, a beginning, and a cause. When you reject the classic understanding of Western politics, you cast about for a different way to order things. Hey what about biology? Hello racism.

    On this view the Yanks have no true culture at all. This is all false, but the cynicism present within this thought is a common one. And even for those who see something wrong with all this, they still are infected by the feeling that maybe there isn’t anything holding the country together. Many have a deep-seated suspicion that universal principles aren’t very dependable. If you don’t know how and why it is false then it might as well be true. The truth is that a healthy America has included local and national elements, and it can and has been undergirded with universal principles. There has always been an insecurity about democracy present in the country. Tocqueville didn’t invent it, he recorded the feelings people already had. For a thought provoking account of Union insecurity see “Our Masters the Rebels” by Michael C. C. Adams. And the supervisory Liberal chest-thumpers who wish to cram whatever policy they think is good for us down our throats by hook or crook aren’t any better. They just encourage people who believe in freedom to think our elites don’t care about freedom anymore and maybe universal principles are bunk after all.

    • I’ve always thought that the argument that “we have a culture, they don’t, and that’s why they are upset” is the product of a weak and insecure mindset. Apparently some folks need that reassurance, even if they have to manufacture it.

      • To follow up on this, things always get, um, “murky” when they’re asked to specify just what that “culture” is which the flag represents. Hence we get effluent like “Black Confederates”.

      • I agree, although on the other hand I think that the tremendous power of romantic narratives or understandings generally are the result of forms of idealism. Think of all the movies where the stars say “I fight only for my buddy” or “I’d let every person on the planet be killed if it would save my family” and such. Of course, idealism used this way doesn’t mean “highly principled”, but rather a certain detachment from reality. If loyalties and relationships seem too weak people retreat into a supposed better world. But of course certain idealistic understandings of relationships mean that your own never measure up to the ones you think you should be having. If the judgement is wrong it destroys relationships, as it often does. Romanticism is dangerous to about everything it touches. It isn’t an opposite of cynicism.

  7. For what it’s worth … I hadn’t noticed this before, but today happens to be the 151st anniversary of the day when units in two Confederate armies — the Army of the Shenandoah and the Army of the Potomac — then gathered at Centreville, were first formally presented silk battle flags.

  8. I wonder which label I fall under being from Georgia. North/Yankee/Federal Government of Reconstructed?

    Of course if you talk to Carl Roden I am a Politically Correct, Fascist, Liberal, Revisionist Historian.

    On a more serious note, being from Georgia, I see that flag everywhere. I used to live in the Northwest corner at the foot of the mountains and I recently moved closer to Atlanta to teach. The quantity of flags in each location is about the same.

    I’ve written about the flag issue before (http://thehistoricstruggle.blogspot.com/2011/11/what-does-battle-flag-mean.html) and my mind has not really changed. I don’t hate the flag, as so many said in this thread, but I don’t think people should frivolously wave it outside of a historical context. The flag carries with it, from its inception during the Civil War to this very day, certain white anglo-saxon protestant implications that must be understood and considered in the flag’s exhibition.

    • As the rectangular stars and cross flag was almost never used during the Civil War, I’d think it could mean whatever one wants it to mean. That configuration does, perhaps, suggest Waspishness now, but not historically, unless one also sees the US flag at the time as being equally Waspish.

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